Nov 08, 2022
12 mins read
If looks could set fires, the combined power of Frankie’s glare and Dru’s irritated eye-roll would’ve turned me to ash. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, so after parking my bike, I approached the pair of them with a bounce in my step.
Turning to Dru, I grinned. “Did she enjoy your music?”
With a curled lip, she responded, “Don’t ever ask me to babysit.”
“No worries,” I said, lifting both hands in surrender. I had no intention of being the one in charge of that, anyway. Dru shook her head, shot a half-hearted glare at the kid, and walked away. I looked at Frankie, raising my brows. “I take it you were a little shit the whole way here?”
I watched her struggle to keep her mouth shut, her teeth gritted together in a tiny snarl. She’d make a great shifter, honestly. She had the death stare down pat.
We looked at each other for a long moment, distant cicadas filling the air. Impressively, she maintained her angry face.
I wasn’t a shifter; eye contact wasn’t inherently -- supernaturally -- a challenge for me. But I was competitive, stubborn, and had the magical ability to keep my eyes open for a really long time if I wanted to.
She blinked first, and started scowling.
A large hand came down gently on Frankie’s head.
“Calm, youngling,” Rhyun said.
“I don’t need your help!” Frankie snapped. She flailed her arms at Rhyun’s hand until the troll let her go. “Just leave me alone!”
“Yeah, I’m sure you think that, but I’d rather make sure you’re being fed on a regular basis and --'' I sniffed, and winced. Vampire senses were not always a benefit. “-- having access to a shower would be good, too.”
Frankie’s eyes went wide at the insult, and she stomped her foot. Angry tears welled in her eyes.
Ah, hell. I didn’t mean to make the kid cry. With a brief sigh, I squatted down in front of her. She wasn’t that much shorter than me, which was just some bullshit, but crouching brought us closer to eye-level. I took a bracing breath, and prepared myself to be genuine.
“Listen,” I said. “I’m not trying to be mean. As nice as people can be, there are just as many people who are out to be mean, and they won’t change their mind just because you’re a kid. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I don’t know what you’ve been dealing with that you’d rather be under a bridge than ask for help. But I would do this for any kid I found that was on their own. I want you to be clean, fed, and, ultimately, safe.”
I glanced at Rhyun before turning back to Frankie. “Everyone here just wants to make sure that you’re going to be okay. If you decide that what we try doesn’t work for you, then I’m sure you can find your way out of it, and I’ll respect that. But I’m asking that you give it a chance.”
Her angry tears turned into a sullen pout as I spoke.
“Can you do that?”
She nodded, but also crossed her arms over her chest. I patted her shoulder, and smiled, fangs flashing. She squinted at me, suspicious, but her mouth twitched upwards.
“Alright. That’s all I can ask.” I stood, and turned to Rhyun. “You guys come with me, and we’ll start working to get you both where you need to be.”
Leading them both towards the building, I didn’t jump out of my skin when Frankie’s hand slid into mine.
Sam was waiting with another woman when we walked in. The urge to snarl was strong, seeing the stranger place her hand on Sam’s shoulder, her body leaning in, chin tilted down a little as she giggled. I knew flirting when I saw it, and I wasn’t pleased to be seeing it. Sam grinned, her hands moving as she spoke. There was enough ambient noise as everyone prepared to hand things over to the morning shift that I couldn’t hear their conversation with any level of confidence.
Just because I didn’t want to force my presence on Sam didn’t mean I was ecstatic to see her flirting with someone else, damn it.
This woman was wearing shoulder pads, for fucks’ sake. What century did she think it was?
“Stay here,” I told Frankie, before I led Rhyun to the sitting room across the hall. After getting her settled in the comfy room -- aptly named, as it was designed for larger humanoids, and the couches in particular were amazing -- and promising to send someone in to talk to her, I shot back to make sure Frankie was where I’d left her.
Surprisingly, she was.
Unsurprisingly, she was eavesdropping on Sam and the stranger. She leaned across an empty desk, trying hard to look like she was fascinated by her own nails and failing. She kept wincing and rolling her eyes at whatever she was hearing. I crossed my arms over my chest and watched for a solid minute. Other agents walked past, nodded to me in acknowledgement, some even smiling when they saw what I was watching.
It wasn’t fair or nice to use my vampire speed to sneak up on a 10-year-old.
But it sure was fucking funny.
“Eavesdropping is rude, y’know,” I said behind her, not bothering to lower my voice.
Her squeal drowned out my snort as her arms flailed out to grab hold of the slick metal desktop, falling backward as her traction-less sneakers slid out from under her. Clinging to the edge with the majority of her body under the desk, she glared up at me.
“It’s not funny, Bunny!” she snarled.
I looked down at her, still holding herself barely an inch off the ground, and gave her a shit-eating grin. “No, it really is.”
“Oh my gods, are you okay?” Sam had rushed over as I was speaking, her eyes wide with concern as she reached out to help Frankie find her feet again. My laughter died a swift death.
“Seville, what the hell?” Sam snapped at me, resting her arm across Frankie’s shoulders, her body poised between me and the kid. “What were you thinking? She could’ve gotten hurt!”
I shot a quick glare at Frankie, who smirked at me, and settled into Sam’s side.
“Seville. Answer me,” Sam said. I meant to actually say something, but the woman she’d been speaking with had joined us, green eyes lit with curiosity. She was white, a little taller than myself, probably around five-eight, dirty blonde hair cut into an obviously bisexual bob. She wore a smart, tailored blue suit over a white dotted blouse, a simple gold chain around her slim neck.
She stood a little too close to Sam, and my fangs throbbed. I knew I was staring at the woman like a predator examining potential prey, but I couldn’t quite make myself stop.
And then the kid opened her mouth, and I was distracted by the desire to throttle her.
“I’m fine, really” Frankie said. “Bunny just surprised me.”
Sam paused, blinking at her. “Bunny?”
Frankie hesitated but then pointed at me like her confirmation was a question. I leaned my head back, eyes falling closed, as a resigned sigh climbed its way up my throat.
I’d never gotten around to legally changing my name. It was a lot of paperwork, and I was a fan of avoiding that. I always introduced myself by my surname, and no one questioned it. Sam had access to my file, and was perfectly aware of my actual deadname, as far as I knew. No one at ComRes knew that I went by Bunny outside of work. It wasn’t that I didn’t like being called Bunny. I picked the name for a reason. But for them, I was just Seville, and that was the end of it. I liked it that way. But now…
I opened my eyes and glanced around. Too many people avoided my eyes, and I heard too much stifled chuckles.
Now I would be the Bunny the vampire.
Yeah, Frankie wasn’t the first to find that amusing and not at all intimidating. Mateo had nearly burst a blood vessel laughing when I was finally recovered enough to tell him my name. Truly, an impressive feat for a vampire.
There was only one option.
“Sam, this is Frankie. I need to get her hooked up with one of the advocates,” I said. I kept my eyes focused on Sam’s left ear, as if the industrial piercing with its golden charms was utterly fascinating.
Bless her, Sam played along beautifully. She turned to the blonde, her hand still on Frankie’s shoulder. “Christine, do you mind waiting in my office? I shouldn’t be long.”
Christine smiled, glancing at Frankie -- who looked up at her with big brown eyes like she’d never heard the word “blackmail” in her life -- and nodded. “Of course. That’s no problem. If you’ll point me to the kitchen, I might grab a cup of coffee while I wait.”
After giving Christine directions and waiting for the woman to walk away, Sam turned to me, crossing her arms. “Alright, spill it.”
I quickly explained how I’d met Frankie at the bridge, omitting some details for my own protection.
“She’s agreed to give us a chance to get her settled,” I said, making eye contact with the kid. “Right?”
She rolled her eyes, but nodded. “I guess.”
“I also need to get someone in to talk to Rhyun, the troll from the bridge. She had information about our available territories that we need to collect, and she’ll need help relocating, as well.”
Sam pulled her phone from her back jeans’ pocket, and spent a moment tapping at it with one manicured hand.
Frankie glanced at me. I shrugged.
“Okay, I’ve got Marnie going to talk to Rhyun, and…” she paused, holding up a finger. The white paint at the tip of her nail was minorly chipped, as if she hadn’t been able to keep from chewing at it at some point. “Genie is on their way here.”
Putting her phone away, she looked at Frankie. “I’m glad you’re down to let us help you out. When Genie gets here, we’ll get you some food and drink, and go from there. Sound good?”
Frankie nodded, and shifted until her arm brushed against my side. She leaned over, and tugged on my jacket. I leaned over, cocking a brow at her.
“Can I help you?” I asked, hyper aware of Sam watching us.
“Will you stay with me?” she whispered. I was pretty sure she thought her voice was too low for Sam to hear, but the way Sam’s brow twitched told me otherwise. “I don’t know these people.”
“You don’t know me either.”
I looked at the wall behind Sam and calculated how long I had until sunrise. I had enough time that I could at least introduce her to Genie, and see that she was comfortable before I had to leave.
“I can stay for a little while. But I have to be home before sunrise, okay?”
The answer clearly didn’t make her happy, but she didn’t pout or lash out. She just nodded, and stayed glued to my side. I straightened, resting my arm on her shoulder casually.
Sam met my gaze, and silently mouthed, we’re gonna talk later.
I sighed, shoulders slumping, but nodded.
Ten minutes later, Genie arrived, peppy and excited to help. Their purple mullet caught Frankie’s eye immediately, along with the tattoo on the side of their head. I caught sight of the kid rubbing a hand along that area of their own head, and I had to grin.
It was a simple thing to grab a frozen meal and a bottle of water for her, getting her settled in one of the hosting rooms. It wasn’t exactly a lush guest room, but it had the basics -- a decently comfortable twin bed, a dresser, and a desk, with a mid-sized window overlooking the parking lot, the windowsill planter overflowing with greenery.
“I’ll come check on you tonight, okay? I’ve got another shift so I’ll be here,” I said.
Frankie sat at the desk next to the door, staring up at me.
I found myself wanting to linger. Genie was getting her some pajamas, and what she needed to take a bath before she could get some sleep, but first light was starting to stretch across the sky, and I needed to go.
“Promise?” she asked. She sounded a little lost. Not at all the cocky little shit I’d met only hours before. I found myself missing the attitude.
I was pretty sure I hadn’t hit my head, but who knew?
I held out my fist, and she hesitantly bumped it with her own. I immediately turned it to hold my pinkie out, and she caught it with hers.
“I promise. Fist-bump-pinkie-swears are legally and magically binding,” I said, keeping my face deadly serious. “I couldn’t break that if I wanted to.”
Her eyes searched my face, looking for signs that I was bullshitting her. I wasn’t. Fist-bump-pinkie-swears were a very important oath in my family. If any of them found out I broke one, I’d never hear the end of it.
Finally, she nodded decisively. “Okay.”
She released my pinkie, and I turned to leave.
I paused, looking over my shoulder. “Yeah?”
“Don’t ever make me listen to ska again, or I will stake you in the face,” she said.
“Rude. We were having a really nice moment, and you ruined it.”
She was laughing as I closed the door.
But so was I.